Sultan of Brunei
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei has announced the introduction of a new sharia criminal code (Reuters)

The tiny oil-rich state of Brunei is to implement a strict interpretation of sharia law, including stoning, flogging and amputation for those found guilty of breaching it.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the southeast Asian country's absolute ruler who is one of the richest men in the world, announced the introduction of a sharia penal code for his subjects.

"By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is being fulfilled," the 67-year-old sultan, who has a personal fortune of $20bn (£12.5bn), said.

Under the code, convicted adulterers face death by stoning, thieves will have a limb chopped off, and flogging awaits those who drink alcohol or commit other kinds of "violations" including abortion.

The code will be phased in, with the first part coming into force in six months.

Brunei, a country of 400,000 people that is roughly the size of Devon, is on the island of Borneo in the South China Sea. The population already practises a conservative brand of Islam. About 70% of Brunei's population are Muslim. Some15% are non-Muslim ethnic Chinese and 10% are Christian.

Alongside neighbouring Malaysia, the former British protectorate has a dual-track legal system for non-criminal cases: civil cases are settled by civil courts according to British law, while family issues are dealt with by Islamic courts.

Bolkiah, who was crowned in 1968, has been increasingly driving the nation towards Islamic orthodoxy. Recently, authorities introduced Islamic religious studies as a compulsory subject in schools for all students.

Christian charity Open Doors ranks Brunei 27th in its World Watch List of countries which it said persecute Christians.

Brunei sits on huge gas and oil deposits and its inhabitants enjoy one of Asia's highest standards of living. The government provides free health care and education and also helps Muslims without means to make the Hajj to Mecca.

Oil has also fuelled the sultan's legendary lavish lifestyle. He is known to have a personal collection of at least 2,500 luxury cars including hundreds of Rolls Royce and Ferraris.

He has married three times and divorced twice and lives in a palace of 1,800 rooms and 290 bathrooms a few kilometres south of the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.

He once famously had his polo shoes delivered by helicopter to the palace field while he was playing polo with Prince Charles.